Edutainment was a 1990 album by KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions. It was the fourth album by Boogie Down Productions, and in it KRS-One continued the thematic combination that had made his first three albums hip-hop classics: critiques of hip-hop and American culture from unusual angles, combined with tales of the street life, together with lots of MC boasting and some references to the esoteric and spiritual. It was titled "Edutainment" because it was designed to be even more philosophical than KRS-One's previous albums. KRS-One did not invent the term "edutainment", (who did seems to be an unresolved issue), but this album might have helped to popularize it.
This was the first KRS-One album I heard, in 1995. I was instantly amazed and fascinated by what I heard. I had already spent a year listening to Public Enemy and De La Soul, so conscious rap was not a new thing for me, but something about KRS-One's delivery and pastiche of political, social and cultural reference bowled me over. I still consider it one of KRS-One's best albums. This opinion of mine is not often shared, as many people consider this album overblown, preachy and pretentious. There is some truth in this: KRS-One intersperses his songs with snippets of himself on the college lecture circuit, and some of his songs are constructed more as lectures than as songs. But for all that his execution may have made the album more cumbersome than it could have been, it was bound to signify the end of an era.
This album came at the end (thematically and chronologically) of the golden age of rap, which ran from 1986 to 1990. At the beginning of this era, hip-hop had had its first wide commercial success. Some hip-hop historians claim that hip-hop was meant as a social and political movement from the beginning. This is an overstatement, but during the late 80s, hip-hop gained political and social awareness and spread artistically. The word "revolution" was spoken seriously. A good basis for change had been established, and that the culture would actually transform on a large scale seemed to not be too ambitious of a goal.
So KRS-One wrote an album that that was a lengthy, ambitious political and social treatise. The songs speak about materialism, vegetarianism, African History, racism, the astral plane and dozens of other subjects, all dedicated to "the upliftment of humanity" and helping us realize that "The I" inside of us was what we were united by. He did this all with technical skills and improved flows and flavors over his previous albums. BDP albums were usually better known for their lyrics than for their music, but the music on this album is certainly engaging enough. And yet this project, by most people's accounts, fell flat.
1990 was not going to be the year, for hip-hop or for the culture as a whole. With all the talk of the Black Panthers or the third eye, there wasn't enough power inside of hip-hop to redo the complicated interstices of the ghetto. The underclass youths wanted something harder, and KRS-One's humanist plan couldn't compete with suburban youths who wanted hard fantasies of the gangsta life. Not enough people seemed to believe KRS-One's promise that a vegetarian lifestyle and knowledge of self was the wave of the future.
The next three years would be the only time in hip-hop history when New York City wasn't the center of the culture. When NYC regained the title in 1993 or 1994 with The Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and The Fugees, every rap act had to at least put their message in terms that could be understood by the street. Many of the songs on the Edutainment album didn't have hooks, and dealt with politics of ancient history. This couldn't go down smoothly enough, so throughout the 90s, rappers only dropped academic subjects in their albums sparingly. It wasn't until 2001's Stillmatic that Nas could come out as an unabashedly conscious rapper. But none of this is the fault of the Edutainment album as such: while it is true that at times the songs are both too flippant to be lectures, and too dogmatic to be fun, the truth is that few in the hip-hop audience, or in the culture at the time, were ready for the message. And they may still be unready.